October 29, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Benched”


BENCHED:  Tuesday 10:30PM on USA – If Nothing Else Is On…

BENCHED, USA Network’s latest attempt to broaden its repertoire beyond its core of light-hearted procedurals, doesn’t have much of a pilot, but there’s some potential for growth.  The pilot, written by series co-creators Michaela Watkins (better known as an actress–she was the dippy ex on Trophy Wife) and Damon Jones, and directed by Michael Fresco, feels like a retread of a lot of other sitcoms.  The set-up is strikingly similar to the one on Marry Me, just a few weeks ago:  a high-strung woman in her thirties, here named Nina (Eliza Coupe), has a public full-on meltdown when she’s disappointed to realize (accurately, unlike on Marry Me) that she’s not getting something she thought was a certainty.  In this case, it’s a partnership at her law firm, and the news comes just after her recent ex-boyfriend Trent (Carter MacIntyre) told her he’d gotten engaged to someone else.

Nina is promptly fired, and the show switches into 2 Broke Girls mode, as the only job classy, well-off, hardworking Nina is able to find is with the Public Defenders Office, depicted here as a cheerful outpost of hell reminiscent of the gritty workplace of USA’s own Sirens (people frequently say “shit”), although so unrealistic that its courtroom could be the one presided over by Bad Judge.  Her co-workers are the usual sitcom assortment of misfits, including gruff intern Micah (Jolene Purdy) and perky Sheryl (Maria Bamford)–and goodlooking Phil (Jay Harrington), who’s struck by Nina at once and might as well be wearing a “will they or won’t they” badge on his chest.  And who’s that in the courtroom, representing the District Attorney’s office as part of his goal to get ahead politically?  Why, it’s none other than smarmy Trent!

It’s mostly hackwork, but sitcoms tend to live and die by whether they transcend their origins.  Benched has one big thing on its side, and that’s Coupe, one of the happiest parts of Happy Endings and possessed of a unique smart/unhinged comic tone.  Being downtrodden and uncertain isn’t what Coupe does best, and that’s what she is for most of the pilot, but towards the end, she gets to wipe the floor (however implausibly) with Trent in court, and once she’s allowed to be confident, Nina becomes a much more interesting and likable character.  There’s a capable supporting cast around her, which also includes Rescue Me‘s Jack McGee as Nina’s new, irascible boss (although it’s not clear how much he’ll be around, since he’s also on CBS’s The McCarthys), The Office‘s Oscar Nunez, and Fred Melamed (also a guest star) as a judge.

Benched is a show that will need nurturing to find a tonal mix where its contrivances work, and USA, new to the comedy business, isn’t necessarily going to be the place to supply that.  The show is worth sticking with for a bit, though, to see if it has any chance of finding its feet.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."